Task Forces

26.10.2021.

SPECIAL EWB REPORT ON AFGHANISTAN

by Jovan Kovacic & Dr Aleksandar Vidojevic

Taliban poetry and the Western drama – The Doha Deal stopped the longest US War but can the Taliban keep their word and make it work to build a new Afghanistan?   

 

By Jovan Kovacic & Dr Aleksandar Vidojevic

East West Bridge International

 

“Life’s no life when honor’s left,

Man’s man when honor kept,

 

Nation’s honor and nation’s fame,

On life, they have a prior claim.

 

With thoughts of these, I do remain,

Unvexed with cares with cares of loss or gain.”

 

-         Khošāl Khān Khaṭak (Khushal Baba) - [1]

 

On August 31, 2021, with the Taliban banging on the airfield gates, amid scenes of abject misery of those clamoring and fighting to get aboard and those left behind, the US pulled out of Afghanistan, ending its longest, 20-year war. Despite being announced beforehand, as early as one year ago, the pullout had and will continue having serious worldwide and multi-faceted ramifications and repercussions.

The purpose of this analysis is to attempt to pin-point some key issues and provide some early answers to burning questions: who are the Taliban and have they really changed as purported in their “charm offensive”, are they to be trusted, can they rule their country at all, who benefitted from the allied disengagement,  how did we get to the point that the announced pullout caught US allies by surprise, why have the cross-Atlantic relations became so frosty, are the Europeans serious about forming their own forces and many others. The situation is still fluid and far from settling down so it would be presumptive of us to say with conviction that what we believe is the “holy writ”, since many surprises on the ground and across the globe are yet to come. We have tried to anticipate some and only time will tell whether we were accurate but at least we have set the markers for the solution of the centuries-old riddle that’s called Afghanistan.        

The Taliban

               The massive evacuation of the US, coalition troops and allied local staff, abject misery and desperation by thousands of allied locals stranded at the airport, people hanging onto air craft fuselage in take-off and inevitably falling to their death, suicide attacks on US military personnel and Afghan civilians by the “Islamic State Khorasan Province” (ISIS-K)[2], an exodus of Afghan refugees, the rapid disintegration of Afghan institutions that took two decades to build,  a president who fled the country allegedly with millions in cash, the Taliban takeover hailing lack of US military presence after 20 years. These are some of the key breaking news stories from Afghanistan in August 2021.

               In truth, the military pullout was announced a year ago and it was not as massive as the political and media uproar would make one think: massive NATO troop deployment was decimated ten years ago. The ‘US withdrawal of troops’ as the media have consistently called it did not involve a Dunkirk-style evacuation of 400,000 souls. Indeed, last year the US only had about 2,000 troops in-country, and Britain one battalion of 600. Compare that to 2011, when the United States had 110,000 and Britain over 10,000 personnel, respectively, in Afghanistan. In fact, additional 4,000 troops were sent in to secure the evacuation and they all left under the August 31 deadline. Hundreds of foreigners and SIV card holders, all civilians, remain at the mercy of the Taliban and international red tape and their fate is being decided as this analysis is being written.

               With the allied forces gone, the Taliban proclaimed the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and early in September formed a government comprising hard-liners and several terrorists on FBI’s most wanted list. This followed weeks of assurances from Taliban leaders that they would usher in a moderate and inclusive style of governing.

Twenty years ago, things looked much different. In October 2001, the US and the UK launched “Operation Enduring Freedom”, to punish Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda for the 9/11 attacks which left almost 3,000 killed and some 6,000 injured. The Taliban who provided sanctuary and refused to hand over Osama bin Laden to the US were decimated by a swift and powerful military action. But not destroyed as we see twenty years later. But back then, the Northern alliance supported by the US, UK, Canada, Australia, France, and Germany forced the Taliban to retreat. It looked like the US and its allies are winning “the War on Terror”. Twenty years after that, US President Joe Biden announced August 31 as the final date for withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan. He justified this deadline with determination to “end the forever war in Afghanistan”[3]. How did we get to this point?

Before going into a more detailed analysis of the recent events, let us go back in time to try to find out who the Taliban are, the “scholar-warriors”, and “an army in slippers” which boasts to have ousted the strongest military force in the world.

 The word “Talib”, which in Pashto means – students or seekers, represent the Islamic political-religious movement, which played an important military role during the Civil War in Afghanistan (1996-2001). They were conceived by the infamous Pakistani secret service ISI with the goal of ending civil strife and lawlessness in the country and pacifying it, thus securing their 1600-mile long and porous border.

The Taliban were initially known as religious students who were educated in conservative Sunni Islamic schools (Madrasa)[4], mostly located near the border with Pakistan.  Those religious schools were influenced by ultra-conservative Islamic teaching coming from Saudi Arabia (Wahhabism)[5], which was their primary donor and financial supporter. Not too many of those students learned to read and write in their Madrasa. Instead, they learned the Quran by heart and so illiterate and brainwashed they were easily manipulated to become shahids (martyrs) or better known in the West as suicide bombers, plain foot soldiers or cannon-fodder.

As they became a prominent faction during the Afghan Civil War due to their strict moral principles based on Sharia Law, the Taliban quickly gained popular support from the Afghan people, who were sick and tired of the mayhem, ever-changing alliances among the myriad warring factions and pervasive corruption. They restored law and order in the country by strictly applying Sharia Law (religious law based on Islamic tradition)[6]. During their rule, public executions, medieval treatment of women[7], the ban on television and music[8] were things that ordinary Afghans experienced daily.

Paradoxically, there is another, hidden “soft side of Taliban”, which could be hardly connected with their “savagery methods of governance”. They write poems.

Nadia Rasul, the “Atlantic”[9] review of the Taliban poems, collected in the book “Poetry of the Taliban”[10],  outlines the diversity of the Taliban poetry and emotions which were an inspiration for the poems. Those emotions could range from “unrequited love, vengeance, battle thrill, pastoral beauty, religion, nationalism, images of wine and powerful women, and even desire for non-violence”[11]. It is hard to reconcile the “emotional side of the Taliban” with their familiar image as medieval-minded people, women oppressors, and promotors of Wahhabi Islam, and people who do not hesitate to execute opponents publicly on a massive scale. Is this “softer – poetic side of Taliban” really relevant to all the crimes they committed against their people? Did recent interaction with the Western Governments in Qatar and other places encourage the Taliban to become responsible leaders of a future Afghanistan, or do they just apply Taqiya rule[12], hiding their true intentions in front of their enemies. One of the key questions the entire world is asking these days is – can they be trusted?

All this breaks down to one substantial question - Are the Taliban capable of stabilizing Afghanistan by establishing hybrid governance of Islamic tradition and attributes of 21st-century society? To answer that question, we need to go back in history to analyze the causes of the current situation in Afghanistan.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The famous Spanish-American philosopher, George Santayana, once said: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”[13]. Recent scenes from Kabul Airport in many ways resemble the US 1975 evacuation from Saigon, but on a much larger scale and with inevitable bigger political fallout. A deeper understanding of the current events requires a short analysis of the most important elements of Afghan history, value system, culture, and way of life.

For centuries Afghanistan generated interests of great empires – including Persian, Macedonians, Mughals, Mongols, Mauryans, Muslim Arabs, Brits, Soviets, Americans, and many others. Afghanistan straddles the mainland route between India, Iran, and Central Asia, the vital geostrategic crossroads of civilizations and whoever controls it has a major strategic advantage. The area is populated by various tribes and ethnic groups. The size of Afghanistan's population is 39,978,042 inhabitants (2021)[14]. Approximately 42% are Pashtun (they are Sunni Muslim and speak Pashto – the first official language), 27% are Tajik (they speak Dari which is the second official language), Hazara 9% (they speak Dari), Uzbek 4% (they speak the Uzbek language), Aimaq 3% (they are Sunni, speaking Persian), Turkmen 2% (they are Sunni speaking Turkmen and Dari languages), and Baloch 2% (mostly Sunni, speaking Balochi language)[15]. Afghanistan is an Islamic country comprising Sunnis who account for some 90%, and Shia for 10%.  Afghans started to accept Islam around the 7th century. Islam represents a unifying factor, which occasionally was used in history to overcome tribal and ethnic division and sectarian tensions whenever necessary and/or possible[16]

The difficult rocky terrain, high mountains, harsh climate and hostile tribes were substantial challenges for any foreign invader of Afghanistan. It is common knowledge that Afghans do not tolerate foreign rule, a fact that many great powers choose to ignore at their own peril. Additionally, foreign invaders commonly overestimated their technical superiority and at the same time underestimated Afghans' warfare tactics, profound knowledge of local terrain, and high motivation to fight against intruders. Initially full of self-esteem and contempt for “unsophisticated” local warriors, the intruders usually fled Afghanistan in disarray, leaving chaos and pride behind. Virulent critics are likely to point out that the same appears to have happened in August 2021.

Sir Alexander Burns, a famous British military officer, diplomat, and intelligence agent who “opened up a new and unexplored inner world of Afghanistan” to the Brits”[17], was deeply fascinated with Afghans and their culture. Despite his amicable feelings towards Afghans and initial acceptance by Kabul locals, he was killed in 1841 in the same town he so much adored. For locals, Sir Burns gradually became a personification of British invaders, who, according to Afghans' perceptions, violated their traditions, way of life, the honor of their women, and most important of all - their freedom.  Sir Burn’s head was exhibited at the local Bazar as a message to British forces. Unfortunately, the Brits realized that they are better off not meddling in Afghan domestic affairs after fighting three Anglo-Afghan wars[18].    

Although the famous sobriquet that Afghanistan is a “graveyard of empires” seems farfetched, indeed, one would be correct to claim that the great powers kept ignoring history. However, it is worth noting that despite the aforesaid, the Persians, Greco-Bactrians, Maurya Empires, Umayyad Caliphate, Mughal and Mongol empires and even the British on two occasions did more or less all right. However, in recent history, the way the great powers “felt into the Afghanistan trap” is strangely similar. The Soviets and the US followed each other’s footsteps, and learned the hard way that after initial victories, local resistance grows over time, which makes their presence harder and harder to maintain and protect, especially in the countryside. Despite their awareness that they will be better off leaving as soon as possible, all of them choose to stay and continue to spill “blood and treasure”, reluctant to admit that their mission has failed. Three Anglo-Afghan wars in the 19th century, a nine-year long Soviet intervention, initially planned to be a swift 9-month involvement, and twenty years of a US and NATO presence, also testifies to the resilience of the local population to foreign influence.

If we analyze previous attempts of foreign invasions of Afghanistan, some common denominators can be observed:

1) Afghans do not tolerate the presence of foreign armies in their country or externally imposed Afghan rulers. Although sometimes they will make tactical ad-hoc compromises, their general attitude toward imposed rule remains the same. Many times, throughout their history, Afghans demonstrated that they are not ready to exchange their autonomy and way of life freedom for economic trade-offs.

2) Independence, Islam, tribal loyalty, and their traditional way of life represent paramount values for Afghans and as such are worthy of sacrifice.

3) Despite being deeply divided by different ethnic, cultural, kinship, and tribal traits and rivalries, the Afghans tend to make Machiavellian alliances to better fight the invaders. However, in recent history the Brits, Soviets and the Americans also used the traditional Afghan tribal factionalism to their advantage.

4) The traditional lack of enthusiasm by the Afghans for modernization imposed by outsiders[19]or even by their rulers[20],  appears to be changing. The Western presence over the past 20 years brought about the emancipation of the society, especially in the capital and major cities. The town folk embraced women and other human rights and modern lifestyle, all of which will be a problem for the Taliban to revert to the strict Sharia law and customs, even by most brutal methods.

5) Foreign invaders usually lack a feasible exit strategy. It is relatively easy to get into Afghanistan, but very difficult to get out. Mission creep got the better of both the Soviets and the Americans. The Americans had a wonderful opportunity to end their mission on a high note immediately after killing Osama bin Laden in 2011. Why they failed to seize the opportunity is a wonder that pundits will have a hard time explaining.

6) There is always someone interested in helping Afghans to fight foreign invaders. The US trained, financed and armed the Mujahedeen in the ’80s to fight the Soviets.  Today Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and Russia supported the Taliban and used them as a proxy to fight for their interests in the region.

 

WHY DID THE AFGHAN ARMY AND SECURITY FORCES COLLAPSE ALMOST OVERNIGHT?

 

The Afghan National Army (ANA), created, trained, and equipped by the Allied forces was destined to collapse from the very beginning, despite some periods when ANA soldiers fought hard for their country. Since 2001, the ANA and Afghan police have lost 66,000 troops during the combat operations against the Taliban[21]. The process of the ANA’s decomposition was rapidly accelerated after the 2020 US – Taliban Agreement when the US announced a plan to leave Afghanistan for good. That sent a discouraging signal to the ANA forces. Being aware of the fact that they could not count on American assistance in the future, their combat morale and willingness to fight the Taliban crashed. Therefore, they needed to find a way how to survive and adapt to the new “American-free reality”. That is one of the major reasons why ANA soldiers deserted from their units, leaving behind American-made “state-of-the-art” weapons. These were gifts to the Taliban, which increased their combat capabilities. According to some reports, even the estimated strength of their forces (300,000 strong) was inflated and inaccurate, to include many “ghost soldiers and policemen”[22], whose salary someone collected.

The Achilles heel of this force was the technical support that was entrusted to civilian contractors paid for by Pentagon. Not surprisingly, all technicians were the first to depart once the American exodus began, leaving the air force floundering on the ground. Cut off from supplies and devoid of air support or aerial resupply, entire units crumbled, allowing advanced elements of the Taliban to occupy provincial capitals without firing a shot in most cases. Here again, the historical Afghan way of warfighting was in evidence - large sums of money handed out or safety and protection promised - were the reason why local warlords changed sides overnight.[23]

 The US Intelligence Community, as well as State Department (cable from July 2021[24]), warned the US Administration multiple times about perspectives of an imminent collapse of Afghan Security Forces and Government. Unfortunately, President Biden and his closest advisors chose to disbelieve the warnings, underestimating the chances of the Taliban’s rapid military advancement. President Biden even publicly said on July 8, 2021, that “the Afghan Government was unlikely to fall and there would be no chaotic evacuation of Americans similar to the end of the Vietnam War”.[25] 

It was an open secret that local tribal chiefs received various kinds of material compensation to restrain from attacking the robust and well-equipped US and NATO troops, which is a contradiction in adjecto in the first place, but this practice went on for decades. What is the use of best-trained troops and state-of-the-art weapons and military equipment if they are not fighting the enemy in the area of deployment? The West chose to believe that by 1) “financially motivating Afghans to quit fighting Western troops”, 2) building their infrastructure, and 3) governmental institutions, locals would gradually build capacities to govern themselves. That would open the way for the West to leave the country. They chose to believe that over last twenty years they were building a profound relationship with locals who were ready to genuinely accept Western values. This vision proved to be realistic in big towns but chiefly failed in the villages where customs and beliefs, especially mistrust of strangers, have not changed much over the centuries.

Furthermore, The Coalitions forces occasionally had to rely upon local warlords for assistance, intelligence, and security and many of them were no better than thugs, killing, looting and raping at will. In the first several years, the Allies would give bounty to the local bandits for every Taliban dead or alive.  When these ran out of genuine Taliban fighters, they turned on many innocent villagers who paid with their lives to sate the greed of the brutal local warlords. There were parts of the country, that despite earlier bad experience with the Taliban up to 2001, welcomed them again with open arms just so they could get rid of the local oppressors[26].

Another factor was the collateral damage which ran into thousands despite attempts by Coalition forces to alert villagers of pending fighting and telling them to stay indoors. Even worse was the behavior towards civilians by the Afghan National Army when losing territory. Their atrocities would keep a war crimes tribunal busy for decades.

NOW IN CONTROL, ARE TALIBAN CAPABLE OF PROFOUND CHANGE? TOO EARLY TO SAY

Despite the recent “Charm Offensive” that few fell for, the West will be very cautious with future dealings with Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, avoiding premature recognition of the legitimacy of their rule. The Taliban leadership has sought to reassure anyone who would listen that their new 2.0 version has evolved, diametrically opposed to their cruel, past 1.0 version. They claim to have learned the hard way that the brutal and extreme ways of running a country are the quickest way to perdition and swear they will not repeat the same mistake.

The fact on the ground so far do not support this claim. The Taliban announced a caretaker government on Sept 8 and empowering many of the movement’s fundamentalists from their regime in the 1990s, a sign that the group’s conservative and theocratic core remain largely unchanged.

It is these men and their followers who will never accept or will at least put up bitter resistance to any changes to the societal customs and religious interpretations, especially regarding the rights of women. Nor will they tolerate any dissent. Several of the new “cabinet” appointments are high up on the US and UN terrorist lists.

The EU warned that cooperation is dependent on the Taliban meeting five conditions, including preventing the export of terrorism, respecting human rights, creating an inclusive government, allowing access to humanitarian aid, and allowing the departures of Afghan and European civilians who wish to leave.

The US has started virtual meetings with some 20 allied countries to analyze the situation and adopt a common stand toward the Taliban.  After the meeting on September 8, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that “any legitimacy, any support will have to be earned.”

There seemed to be a ray of hope the next day when the Taliban took the first step towards earning trust by cooperating with the US allowing U.S citizens and lawful permanent residents to leave on a chartered Qatar Airways. “We can confirm that flight has safely landed in Qatar. We are deeply grateful to the continued efforts of Qatar in facilitating operations at HKIA and helping to ensure the safety of these charter flights. We have been working intensely across the U.S. government to ensure the accuracy of the manifest and the safe departure and transit of the aircraft, and today’s safe flight is the result of careful and hard diplomacy and engagement.

“The Taliban have been cooperative in facilitating the departure of American citizens and lawful permanent residents on charter flights from HKIA. They have shown flexibility, and they have been businesslike and professional in our dealings with them in this effort. This is a positive first step,” NSC Spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement.

 

In the meantime, efforts will continue to evacuate the remaining American citizens, lawful permanent residents, and Afghans who worked for the US and wish to leave Afghanistan, she said.

In the meantime, information coming out of Kabul on the new government was anything but a cause for optimism. Beatings, stifling the media, with violence, harassment and exclusion of women and violent break of protests, do not bode well. Even worse looks the composition of the new cabinet comprising 33 hardline mullahs and the Taliban explanation that it is only a caretaker government does nothing to allay those fears.

“I assure all our countrymen that these officials will work hard to uphold Islamic rules and Shariah law,” said Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada, the movement’s supreme leader. “The Islamic Emirate needs the continued support of its people to rebuild the ruined country together.” Mullah Muhammad Hassan was named as acting prime minister, making him head of government. Hassan is a hard-liner who filled a similar role within the insurgency’s leadership council in recent years and was a deputy prime minister of the first Taliban government.

Some analysts had thought that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who had led the Taliban’s negotiations with the United States, would take that role, but instead he was named as deputy, along with Mawlawi Abdul Salam Hanafi, a prominent Uzbek member of the negotiating team.

The top security posts, however, went to relative newcomers from a younger generation of Taliban leaders, both serving as Sheikh Haibatullah’s powerful military deputies.

However, the most worrisome are the “power” appointments. Sirajuddin Haqqani, 48, is now acting minister of the interior. On FBI’s and UN’s most wanted terrorists’ list with a bounty on his head for $10 million, he presided over the insurgency’s campaign of urban bombings that terrorized the capital city, Kabul, for years. His new post will give him huge powers and excuse for mischief. Mawlawi Muhammad Yaqoub, named acting defense minister, is the oldest son of the Taliban’s founding leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar.

Much of the cabinet, including Mr. Baradar, had served in the Taliban’s political office in Doha, Qatar. Among them were Amir Khan Muttaqi, the acting foreign minister; his deputy, Sher Abbas Stanikzai; and four of the so-called “Guantánamo Five.” They were held at the American detainment camp at Guantánamo Bay for 13 years before being exchanged in 2014 for Sgt. Bowe Bergdah.

THE RESISTANCE

Now things get interesting. The old hardliners, used to communicating with the populace by decree followed by sticks, bullets, rope and axes in case of disobedience, are now facing a different population than that of 25 years ago which was much more docile and not “infected by the Western virus”. Before the fall, all the major cities in the country, looked like any other in that part of the world not under a harsh Sharia rule – women walked alone, drove cars, worked and studied. Some wore the traditional garb, some chose not to, the had the freedom of choice. Music played in the streets and caffe bars, restaurants were full of people of all genders, posters and ads added to the color. People went about their business like anywhere else. 

The Taliban put a hard stop to all this and the people, including a generation that was born after the first Taliban rule ended or were too you to remember, accustomed to the liberal and free lifestyle, are rebelling against the restrictions.

In an unheard-of development in the late 90ties, women snubbed the new Taliban authority and took to the streets in hundreds in several cities across the country demanding their rights, human right in general and unheard-of (for the Taliban) inclusion of women in the government. Obviously, they did not believe or disliked what a Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shahen said “there will be no issue about women’s right” with a caveat:  they must wear a hijab. “They can receive education with hijab. They can work with hijab.” But another spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid ruled out women in cabinet posts, saying they can return to their jobs in ministries, police and the justice system.

The ensuing events proved the women right, as the Taliban descended upon them with batons and bullets, in a hardly encouraging show of excessive force and savage determination to nip any dissent in the bud.  

History teaches us that attempts to fast-forward phases of social and economic development have not always been smooth, since transformation processes need time. But the 20 years of western presence in Afghanistan left a mark, that Taliban would be wise (which they will not be) not to ignore.

Afghan Ambasador in Tajkistanu Zahir Agbar said the Taliban are facing a new reality: “When the Taliban entered Kabul the last time, it had a population of 300, 4000 thousand. Now the population has swelled to six to eight million. These people want to defend their rights and live in a civilized society. The young will not stick to the Taliban rules or accept violence docilely and this means chaos and disorder are quite possible”, he said.

Some may think that the Taliban have changed but this is not based on facts. I see no change in their behavior. Although the Taliban claim to be truly independent and earnest in keeping promises, I do not believe them”, he said.

The violent break-up of the demonstrations shows that urban society has evolved while the Taliban mentality still has not. They will use all the violence it takes to break up any protests, sending a clear message that any (visible) dissent will not be tolerated. It remains to be seen how this clash of wills will end, but many fear if it continues there will be blood and crackdowns, that door-to-door search and arrests are inevitable, culminating in public executions or Taliban lose face. This most likely will not start happening soon, meaning days or weeks, but only a few romantic souls believe the hardliners are capable of backing down. 

Taliban are not a disciplined, well-organized force acting in unison. They are susceptible to tribal rivalries (which was successfully exploited on several occasions by invaders in recent history), diverse local loyalties, mistrust, and have different levels of discipline and training. They are also deeply divided by the level of education and where they spent the last 20 years – those who stayed home fighting the Coalition forces versus those who spent their time in Pakistan or even further afield. Their vision of how to proceed are vastly different. Many of them today understand that their fundamentalism in 1996-2001 alienated them from the population both in towns and villages, but not all by any means. This is just one of the factors that will seriously impede their future governance. Therefore, a split among Taliban, the breakup of local inter-tribal conflicts or even a civil war are possible scenarios that cannot be completely ruled out. Especially if Panjshir valley resistance holds out which, as history teaches without fail, will give an impetus to other rebels elsewhere, now quiet but far from non-existent. It is unclear if the Taliban has sufficient power and legitimacy to execute power without major opposition from various tribes and clans.

Furthermore, it is uncertain if the Taliban will manage to conquer the rebellious Panjshir province or even manage to sustain coherence and discipline within its echelons. 

To sum it up: Practicing a rigid interpretation of Sharia kept Afghanistan in a medieval mentality and behavior during Taliban rule 1996-2001.  After twenty years of Western presence, some Afghans experienced a different type of life and alternative to the Taliban anti-modern type of society. Turning the wheel of history back to their medieval ideal is not an impossible task, but it would be very hard to implement it without serious opposition and serious violence bound to cause a massive outcry in the West which is watching Taliban’s every move with a microscope.

It could also cost them the financial backing by several countries which they depend on for their survival until they manage to get the country up and running at any level.

LACK OF EXPERTISE AND BUDGETARY DEFICIT

The Taliban and their strict interpretation of Islam and Sharia Law, represent in the view of many a barrier against lawlessness and general chaos at this moment. The Taliban in the past ruled by draconian measures and exercising terror, which created additional rifts in an already divided Afghan society. Having in mind their ideology and values, it is hard to believe that they fundamentally changed their perception of the West and the world around them, after series of negotiations in Serbia, Moscow and Qatar during 2020. On the other hand, the Taliban are exhausted after two decades of fighting the US and NATO. They are broke and need money to rule the country.

The Taliban will likely soon face serious economic challenges, a lack of budgetary revenue and experts to run the country. As General David Petraeus (US. Army Ret.), former Director of the CIA, said during the recent web discussion at the Atlantic Council, the Taliban will face very harsh economic realities. In his opinion, they are not able to generate sufficient income to sustain budgetary needs. Although they control the poppy and narcotic trade, Gen. Petraeus believes that the Taliban could generate between $500 million - $1 billion from the illegal trade of narcotics. That puts them in a very difficult position since the annual budget of the Afghan government was in the $18 – 19 billion range. Since the government was able to generate only $1-2 billion in revenues, mostly from the collection of taxes and customs, a larger portion of the Afghan budget got subsidized by the US, UK, Japan, and other donor nations. They are now gone, but unless Pakistan, Russia, China and Qatar step in quickly which they will probably do but not to the extent that would really satisfy the Taliban needs, the new masters in Kabul could soon run out of basic needs like food, electricity, fuel, and running water. 

One way to go is to trade mineral deposits. Many countries are interested in Afghan mineral resources, worth some $3 trillion worth.  The Taliban have already developed a mineral trade and opened illegal mining facilities. Although China is traditionally interested in Afghan minerals, especially the reportedly vast lithium deposits, they are also wary of the potential spread of Islamic extremism among the Uyghurs on their territory.

The opium crop is a key component of the Afghan economy, accounting for somewhere between 7 percent and 11 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and bringing in as much as $2 billion in 2019, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Afghanistan accounts for “80 percent of global illicit opium production.”

The gross income generated from opiates was “also worth between 24 and 44 percent of the value of the licit agricultural sector of the country” in 2018-2019. And now, opium looms ever larger because the major pillar of the Afghan economy was foreign financial assistance—accounting for 40 percent of GDP—which has now vanished, as the West tries to figure out how to deal with the Taliban, which “led a deadly insurgency against the U.S.-backed government” before seizing power.

Opium is also a job creator in a country where opportunities are scarce. The opium harvest “provided the equivalent of up to 119,000 full-time jobs” in 2019. The broader opium economy also supports thousands involved in the domestic trade (opium traders, heroin producers, domestic dealers), those working as service providers in the trade (packers, transporters), and individuals who are internationally connected and are working in the international opium trade. The opium economy is especially strong in areas that have key Taliban support, such as Helmand province in the south of Afghanistan.[27]

In theory, Afghanistan has a solid potential to develop its economy and fight poverty. In reality, that might not be an easy task keeping in mind internal divisions, lack of their administrative capabilities, as well as and conflicting interests of various clans and tribal groups, not to mention often conflicting foreign interference. In the meantime, the Western allies started developing “accessible” parts of the country.

Serious financial resources can only come from outside. It will not come without some conditions. That could motivate the Taliban to soften their behavior. Most of the international community choose to believe that the Taliban could stabilize the country and develop a specific Afghan hybrid of traditional Islamic and modern society. This is what the Taliban keep reassuring not just the US and the West but also their “reluctant” allies and neighbors.

 At this point, it is still unclear, and in all likelihood will stay so for a while, whether they could be treated as trusted and reliable partners. If we look at their previous record and current pattern of behavior, there is scant evidence that they can profoundly change. The recent Taliban execution of the famous Afghan comedian Nazar Mohammad, known as Khasha Zwan, clearly shows that “better PR does not change Taliban essences”. They executed the comedian because he made jokes about the Taliban, which they perceived as “shameless mockery”. The Taliban self-perception, as well as collective identity rest on a rigid interpretation of Islam and a forceful implementation of their model. They are aware that once they “start softening their approach” they might look weak in the eyes of the Afghans or other Islamic extremist like “The Islamic State Khorasan Province” ISIS-K. In their view that could cause a chain reaction leading to the eventual loss of power.  No one should be fooled that they are ready to adjust their core value to become more acceptable to the world because their very existence depends on sticking to their hard line.

Additionally, there is very few evidence that the Taliban have the manpower, administrative capacity, or financial expertise to generate budgetary revenues smoothly and exercise power in most of the country or even keep unified what they now hold. Tens of thousands of the people that fled or are fleeing persecution are precisely what the Talib desperately need if they really want to run a country with any modicum of success – experts and members of the educated elite.  

In the meantime, a humanitarian disaster looms that threatens nearly one third of the Afghan population. Qatar is flying in food and medical supplies. Pakistan has announced it is sending planeloads of aid to Afghanistan.

The United Nations has launched a $606 million emergency appeal to help nearly 11 million people in desperate need as a result of drought, displacement, chronic poverty and a sharp increase in hostilities as the Taliban swept to power last month.

Even before the Taliban takeover, nearly half the population needed some humanitarian aid and more than half of all children under the age of 5 were expected to face acute malnutrition, according to the U.N. report that accompanied the emergency appeal.

The economic challenges are steep. Most Afghans live on less than $2 a day, 80% of the country’s budget was covered by international funds over the past 20 years, and no industries of note have emerged to provide employment to a mostly young population.[28]

The Taliban would do well to remember that sagely advice to be very careful of hungry population which can suddenly rise up in arms. There is no greater warrior that the one who has nothing left to lose.

FOREIGN POWERS TO THE RESCUE?

The Taliban need no international recognition for the time being – they have Pakistan at its long and porous border, the country which helped build them in the first place then watered them to full bloom. Given the reaction by a part of Pakistani military and intelligence staff, it seems it will continue doing so with even greater fervor and pride.

Indeed, the first foreign official to visit Kabul under the new regime was the chief of Pakistani intelligence services Faiz Hameed. However, the visit was not all smiles, hugs and congratulations, sources say. The visit also showed that Pakistan is wary of the Taliban because of the influence and control they exert over their Pakistani brethren. Hameed’s main topic in Kabul was the release of up to 7,000 prisoners from Afghani jails some of whom were involved in attacks in Pakistan. Intelligence services believe that most of those released were immediately redeployed. If so, that would be a serious breach of the Doha agrement, whereby the Taliban guarantee that the released prisoners will not pose a threat to the security of the United States and its allies. The same promise they also made to all of their neighbors who are, just like the West, minutely watching for any breach.

               If all goes well, Taliban can always depend on Qatar for financial aid as well. Qatar is a special case. Having given the Taliban commanders a safe haven over the past 20 years, it hosted the US-Taliban talks and now is the go-to destination for any westerner to discuss any topic with the new Kabul authorities. This will shift the current balance of political clout in the Gulf region.

A lot also depends on how Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan will assess the prospects of new Turkish-Afghani relationship. Right now, his erstwhile allies in Doha wield much bigger influence over the Taliban, a fact he resents in his powerplay ahead of the 2023 general elections at home. In his dire straits, he is expected to grasp any straw that he can turn into benefit, in this case primarily the threat of fresh wave of migrants from Afghanistan into Europe. Arming the new regime in Kabul, which he would be prone to do according to some intelligence reports, will set him on a perilous collision course, not just with the West but also with Moscow.

Then there are the oil- and gas-rich former Soviet republics to the north, whose proximity means that Moscow will have to deal with the Taliban to ensure security on that border and its interests in the region on the whole. Moscow, which has maintained open channels of communication with the Taliban for years now and hosted them on many occasions, the latest in June this year, does not need any extremist spillover into Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Hence, with a 20-20 hindsight from their abortive invasion of the country in 1979, Moscow will also be carefully monitoring for any signs that the current bosses in Kabul are not keeping their promises. It will also minutely monitor China’s attitude so take steps and bring both Beijing’s and Kremlin’s views as much as possible.   

Turkmenistan has maintained frequent and direct contacts with the Taliban and, at a February meeting, secured an agreement to allow the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) Power Interconnection projects to proceed.

Regarding Uzbekistan, Tashkent might suffer the consequences of maintaining ties with the old regime and mostly ignoring the Taliban. It needs a direct transport link across Afghanistan to the Iranian port of Chabahar and to Gwadar in Pakistan. But at the ned of the day, such a link will be in the interest of the Taliban as well, although it might be put on a slow burner, Chris Weafer, co-founder of Macro-Advisory in Moscow, wrote.

Tajikistan is most vulnerable, Weafer argued, noting that the country has the longest and most porous border with Afghanistan and is close to areas currently controlled by the more militant ISIL. Russia has 5,000 troops on the border but investment risks will be higher here than for other countries.[29]

Last but not least, there is China which has become an integral part of the recent negotiations on the handover of power in Kabul. Afghanistan has always straddled the ancient and recently revived Silk Road stretching from the Great Wall of China, across the Pamirs, through Afghanistan, and into the Levant and Anatolia. Its length was about 4,000 miles. That route and plan is now more important than ever before, as China strives for world dominance. This route has now gained in importance after the recent political developments in the region with far-reaching military implications like the signing of the AUKUS Pact between Australia, the UK and the US, supported by the Quad comprising India, Australia, the US and Japan. 

Indeed, speaking about Taliban’s foreign policy spokesman Mujahid said China will play “a significant role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.” The corridor China-Pakistan (CPEC) is very important for entire Asia, including Afghanistan, and is a part of the Belt and Road project which Beijing indicated will expand to encompass all of central Asia. 

The Taliban will likely honor all the aspects of the 2020 Agreement relating to the withdrawal of foreign troops because it corresponds perfectly to one of the main goals of their uprising – kicking foreign troops out of the country.

Paradoxically, the Agreement helped them to accomplish their goals while gaining international attention and kind of legitimization by the anti-Western powers – China, Russia and Pakistan, whose embassies continued doing business as usual during the greatest havoc in the capital. That is a win-win arrangement for the Taliban. While the Western part of the international community i.e. the US, and the EU, will be much more cautious and slower in establishing relations with Taliban-ruled Kabul, the, Russians, Chinese, Iranians and Pakistani are currently showing inclination to recognize the Taliban rule, albeit, gradually and conditionally, especially Tehran, still hurting over the killing of 11 diplomats and massacre of some 2,000 Hazari Shia civilians in Mazar i Sharif in 1998.

Almost all of these countries fear of spillover of Islamic extremism to their territories and perspective of an outbreak of another civil war in Afghanistan like in 1996 – 2001. They need to carefully craft their policies to prevent Islamic extremists from filling in the vacuum left behind. For now, the Taliban looks to them as the most reasonable option. That might be a deceiving perception.

Additionally, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Qatar and China will spare no effort to find a way to fill the gap after US and NATO departure and expand their influence in Afghanistan.  Therefore, it is very likely that the regional situation will not become less complex. An explosive mix of opposing regional influences and intertwined foreign interests will continue to be a major destabilizing factor in Afghanistan.

To keep the foot in the door the West needs to adapt to the new circumstance, regroup and rethink its tactic and operational mode of behavior in the region. Totally Abandoning Afghanistan would only create serious damage to the Western interests.  Afghanistan is geo-strategically too important to be left isolated or unchecked. The US and NATO should explore building closer military partnerships with India while strengthening ties with traditional regional allies. Additionally, the West should not shy away from exploring ad-hoc cooperation on particular issues of mutual concern with various regional countries including Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Relationships with Russia, Pakistan, and China, which are already sensitive and complex, should be dealt with in a one-to-one matrix. The US and NATO should develop a realistic and sustainable long-term strategy for their presence in the region, based on core economic, political, and security interests. One of the top priorities should be to increase efforts to fight the illegal drug trade. According to REUTERS, the US spent over $8 billion over 15 years to deprive the Taliban of their legal drug trade (opium and heroin) which generated them vast revenue.  Therefore, the US and NATO should intensify regional and global efforts to fight the illicit drug trade, while increasing pressure on the Taliban to quit producing and trading opium and heroin. Under the February 2020 Doha Agreement, “The United States will seek economic cooperation for reconstruction with the new post-settlement Afghan Islamic government as determined by the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations…”.

US AND NATO LEGACY IN AFGHANISTAN

At the end of the day, it is very hard to define which long-term goals have been accomplished by the US-led intervention in Afghanistan. The only tangible result is the termination of Osama bin Laden (Pakistan, May 2011) and the almost complete eradication of al-Qaeda from Afghanistan. According to the report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) from August 2021, 2,443 American troops and 1,144 allied troops (NATO) were killed and 20,666 US troops were injured during 20 years of operation in Afghanistan. The US Department of Defense (DoD) spent $837 billion waging a war, while the US Government spent $145 billion on the reconstruction of Afghanistan.[30] It seems that the heroism and sacrifice of American troops proven daily in combat in Afghanistan had a rather limited resonance within some decision-making circles in Washington, DC.  The chaotic evacuation from Kabul airport does not create a positive image of the US military, although they did accomplish all the assignments in the last 20 years in Afghanistan. 

President Bush fell into a trap of “reactive policy” since he was under tremendous pressure from the US public opinion to do something after the 9/11 attacks. It is fair to say that any head of state, whose country was under attack, would react very similarly. In those circumstances it is not surprising that the creation of a comprehensive exit strategy was not a top priority. Initially, the operation was a resounding success – Taliban were ousted with mass support from local forces, AQ were defanged and eventually their leader Bin Laden was taken down in punishment for the deadliest attack on US soil after Pearl Harbor.

The crux of the problem herein is not that the intelligence services underestimated the power and popularity of the Taliban in rural areas and many provinces, they underestimated the immense level and impact of corruption by the Kabul regime.

Blaming Afghans for the current situation would not be a mistake either, because they have been given an unprecedented level of support but their leaders, steeped in corruption, failed.  “You can lead a horse to the water but you cant make it drink”, an intelligence analyst commented. In this case none tried harder than the US to make the ex-president Ashraf Ghani’s government succeed and the number are there to prove it - $300 million a day. It was ANA forces which in face of adversity simply put their weapons down and the Kabul administration fled the country, even before the Taliban occupied the capital.

The logical million-dollar question is why did not the US pull out after their primary objective was completed with the death of Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attack? In all probability it was the political inertia since no US president dared to be remembered as the commander-in-chief who ordered a withdrawal. Another reason is that politicians and not just in the US believed they were winning over the hearts and minds of the Afghans and converting them to their Western way of life. There is a lot of truth in that claim if one were to compare the life in the towns during the brutal 1996-2001 Taliban rule and the period after the Coalition troops took over. Another important reason also was that a lot of money was being made on the ground.  

In illustration, USAID completed the construction of three POWER generation plants in 2009, 2016, and 2019 and constructing three solar power plants and a wind farm that will add 110 megawatts of power to the national power grid was in the process of being developed. In the energy sector17, USAID installed a first-of-its kind solar power plant in Kandahar that is saving 1.4 million gallons, or 5.3 million liters, of fuel per year and provides 75,000 people with clean power. In Herat, Naghlu, and Mazar USAID is supporting the construction of wind farms and solar power plants that will provide affordable, reliable, and accessible power to more than one million Afghans and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Between 2003 and 2017, USAID built and improved more than 2,000 kilometers of roads, linking Afghanistan’s five most populous provinces and facilitating travel and commerce. Thanks to USAID, Afghan businesses can more easily transport their products across the country and citizens have improved access to urban centers. The 2,000-kilometer road has bolstered economic growth along the entire corridor and improved the lives of hundreds of communities by connecting once-remote villages to schools and clinics.

In 2016, USAID partnered with UNICEF to bring desperately needed safe drinking water to Afghans in hard-to-reach communities and provided clean drinking water to more than 650,000 Afghans and has helped improve access to basic sanitation services to more than 1.2 million Afghans across 17 provinces. 

The report omits to say whether a dime went into the provinces sympathizing with or under the control of the Taliban. What is certain is that the Kabul government certainly didn’t invest a cent. The hatred and mistrust were so great that the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani directly spoke (albeit via Skype) to some Taliban commanders for the first time ever after 17 years and that only in Belgrade, Serbia. The dozen Taliban commanders asked Ghani to develop infrastructure, build schools and hospital in their town. It never happened.  

 So, after spending billions of dollars to woo the Afghan people to the Western mind set, the Coalition failed to diminish the popular support for the Taliban to the necessary level for them to become irrelevant because most of the money ended up in the pockets of the central and local authorities which served only to further infuriate the people living in poverty. On the other hand, the pencil-pushers who were tasked with controlling how the money was spent failed miserably for numerous reasons, the chief being: drafting a rosy, picture-perfect report of success is much more conducive to career advancement and general well-being than otherwise. That’s another facet of mission creep.

 

THE DAY AFTER

As the dust settles, and images from Kabul Airport havoc and the last USAF plane rising into the sky fade away, one has to ask the question of what will come next.  

Settling the final Afghanistan bill will bring additional tensions in an already conflicted American society. It is hard to imagine how President Biden could possibly exit out of the current situation politically undamaged, as millions of Trump supporters clamor for impeachment. Even some legislators on the Democratic side of the aisle are very unhappy with the calamitous and heart-breaking scenes at the Kabul airports over the last few days. Treason is currently a word very much in use but is unwarranted.

The action could further erode the core and structure of the American establishment, already seriously shaken by the Trump administration and especially the Jan 6 Capitol Hill mayhem and its unconventional exit from the White House. Polarization, sparked and fanned by Trump, is now rekindled, and threatens to grow into a major conflagration as many pin the blame for the tragic deaths of 13 American marines squarely on Biden, albeit largely unjustified. The blame game among score of Washington security agencies has reached unprecedented proportions. Perhaps the most bitter are the veterans who are almost unanimous in condemning the pullout, asking why were the deaths of so many of their comrades, the suffering, the missing limbs, PTSD, fatherless children and broken marriages, all in vain.

Despite the heroic attempts at air lifting not just their troops and citizens, but also their local Afghan translators, trackers, scouts, fixers and gofers, the US failed to extricate all of them, sending most of them underground. This will be a major test for the Taliban who promised safe passage to anyone who wishes to leave. Many fear that they will be arrested or even executed by the unforgiving extremists.

Furthermore, US allies in Europe are very unhappy, to say the least. In fact, the decision to pull out US troops caught many allies totally unawares and unprepared, forcing them to scramble and complete their evacuation at the last minute. All this despite repeated warnings from Trump and later Biden this was coming.

German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer warned against efforts to split Europe from the U.S. “It’s true that in Afghanistan the West has suffered a severe blow. Whether it is really a permanent defeat will be decided by the conclusions,” she tweeted. “If the conclusions from Afghanistan were a split between the EU and NATO, or between Europe and the U.S., or a withdrawal from international engagement, then the West would indeed have lost.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the situation at the airport as “grave, dramatic and horrible” and that it all now looks like to have been in vain. Her heir apparent Armin Laschet faulted Biden for not consulting with allies beforehand. "The European Union must be capable of reacting with the American partner. We must be capable of securing the Kabul airport on our own”, he told Frankfurter Algemaine Zeitung.

French President Emmanuel Macron has long argued for a rethink of NATO strategies and methods. Macron and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte emphasized the need for the EU to develop “strategic autonomy” on economic and military fronts, while continuing close co-operation with NATO.[31]

The two countries “recognize that Europe must prove resilient and capable of taking more responsibility for its security and defense by allocating the resources necessary for this aim”, FT quoted a a joint statement.

A NATO official told Politico’s Playbook it’s “dishonorable” for France to mount an attack on the coalition, since it had raised no objections within the Alliance since U.S. President Joe Biden’s announcement of the U.S. withdrawal. “If France’s assessment is that Europe is too weak, how can the solution be to make it weaker by dividing it internally and cut it off from the biggest two other defense spenders,” a NATO official said, referring to the U.S. and the U.K. “We have only one set of forces. Parallel structures will only weaken the existing pool.”

Across Europe, other officials also reacted with a mix of disbelief and a sense of betrayal. Some regarded the withdrawal from Afghanistan as nothing short of a mistake of historic magnitude. “I say this with a heavy heart and with horror over what is happening, but the early withdrawal was a serious and far-reaching miscalculation by the current administration,” said Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the German parliament’s foreign relations committee. “This does fundamental damage to the political and moral credibility of the West.”[32]

Sudha David-Wilp at the U.S. German Marshall Fund in Berlin says Europeans had been hoping for more from the Biden administration. “After described four years of cringing and ducking during the Trump years, there's certainly shock about the messy withdrawal in Afghanistan. And of course, there's also of bitterness about not being consulted because Biden certainly put a lot of weight into how important America's alliance system is.

Simon Haselock, a former member of Britain's Royal Marines, now working in conflict resolution in the world's hotspots, including Afghanistan said: “There is huge surprise in Europe, but in Britain specifically, given that Britain was the senior partner. Britain's been abandoned in the same way as the other European countries. And we backed America in its war in Afghanistan because of 9/11. We backed it right up until the last minute. Then American arbitrators decided to pull it.” He described “the so-called special relationship between the U.S. and Britain” as “just a chimera.” [33]

There were calls for resignation of relevant ministers across most of the leading EU countries over what Britain’s Observer called "Incompetence. Poor judgment. Lack of preparedness. Untruths. Confusion. Complacency. Delay.” In Britain the pullout was said to be the worst foreign policy disaster after the Suez.

The events in Kabul as an effect of decisions in Washington are bound to have a massive impact not just on relations with USA but also on the cohesion and unity of the EU itself, already fraught with issues of the rising wave of sovereignism and nationalism.  Trump launched the first salvo against NATO’s unity, shaking some European partners’ confidence the Alliance can remain intact. Turkey’s posturing over the past years, purchases of Russian weapons and ignoring complaints by its allies, rampant trampling of human rights and impetuous foreign interventions justify that fear. This in turn has already and will continue strengthening the calls for some sort of common European army or at least and type of rapid reaction force. While the EU created battlegroups of 1,500 troops back in 2007, they have never been used as there were questions about the funding and the need to get EU27 unanimity for deployment.

This subject is now on the agenda of EU defense ministers, discussing a “strategic compass” document that will outline the bloc’s military threats and ambitions for the coming years. The goal is to have a first draft by November and to unveil the final version at the start of 2022. But importantly — and of critical timing — the strategy is expected to include some language on the “rapid entry force” proposal. And part of the discussion is about whether the force can turn into a “European army.” European Council President Charles Michel said last week after an emergency G7 leaders’ videoconference on Afghanistan, that developing the EU’s military capabilities is “of the utmost importance for the future of Europe.” But it’s not a unified position.

There are numerous skeptical EU countries, — mainly the Baltic and eastern nations. Many officials are also worried about duplicating efforts within the NATO military alliance. Others fear a more assertive EU military plan would simply erode the already-strained EU-U.S. relationship. Additionally, there’s a fractious history within Europe of trying to jointly build military equipment.[34]

According to the EU’s foreign and security chief Josep Borrell, this could take the form of an “initial entry force” of 5,000 troops. “Sometimes there are events that catalyze history, that create a breakthrough, and I think that Afghanistan is one of these cases,” he told reporters Thursday.

Matej Tonin, defense minister of Slovenia, which holds the current EU Council presidency, suggested a rapid reaction force could comprise between 5,000 to 20,000 troops, but deployment should not depend on a unanimous decision by the EU27, Reuters writes.

It is too early to say whether this will have any impact on the future of NATO, but by the look of things and knowing the way the EU bureaucracy moves, it is safe to assume there will most likely be none, but there are just so many structural hits that any Alliance can take over time without a clear and present danger to its existence as a unifying point.

THE UNLIKELY VICTORS IN THE WAR ON TERROR: THE TALIBAN

The onslaught unleashed by the US following the 9/11 attacks against the Taliban and Al Qaeda nearly destroyed both organizations. The Arab Spring gave AQ a second wind and gave birth to ISIS whose particularly aggressive brand of jihad spread like wildfire throughout most hotspots in the Muslim world. Like most wildfires, it burned itself out eventually. AQ and ISIS both seemed in decline.

Unlike AQ and ISIS, the Taliban are a local movement with local objectives. Certainly, there is a fondness for the concept of jihad within its ranks and leadership, but save for a few “career jihadists”, global jihad is not the goal of the organization. The expulsion of foreign troops, the overthrow of the central government and the establishment of a fundamentalist theocracy in Afghanistan are their stated objectives. All three seem to be well on their way to being fully accomplished. The only way for the Taliban’s good fortunes to turn would be to poke the bear and turn the US’s war fatigue into vengeful wrath.

This explains the Taliban’s cooperation during the US’s withdrawal of its citizens and a large number of local support staff from Kabul Airport. To attack the Americans then would be to invite destruction upon all that the Taliban has achieved over the last month. CENTCOM Commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said the Taliban were “helpful and useful when we closed down operations."

Al Qaeda, a long-time ally of the Taliban understands the need to respect its host’s strategy. ISIS, the youngest of these three and the least cooperative, on the other hand, has little consideration for Taliban objectives in Afghanistan. They proved that at the Kabul airport when an ISIS-K suicide bomber exploded his vest killing at least 182 people, including 146 Afghan civilians, 23 Taliban fighters and 13 members of the United States military. This was also a painful slap to Taliban face and pride.

ISIS sees the Taliban as owing them fealty and still refers to them as a “militia” rather than the Afghan Emirate. It has become in many ways an unwanted guest. To ISIS, Afghanistan is but a PR stunt. The country being the prime hotspot and most recent success story for Jihad at the moment, any organization such as Daesh claiming to be the leader of Global Jihad needs to have a contingent there to lead the charge. In reality, the Taliban could have done without them. The Taliban condemned the attack, saying "evil circles will be strictly stopped" and later announced that they would take every possible measure to capture ISIL-KP leader Shahab al-Muhajir.

Not only has ISIS provided little in the way of military contributions to the insurgent offensive, it is sabotaging the Taliban’s attempts at establishing control over the country. ISIS has little interest in slowing down their all-out aggression against the West or any other enemies in the Middle East. Peace is the opposite of their mission statement which is to continue to fight against the infidels.

It is by no means a stretch of the imagination that the Taliban are vexed by their ungracious guests who were complicating an already uniquely tense and complex situation of withdrawal, but also letting it be clearly known they will not respect Taliban authority. Indeed, the fighting between them is gradually picking up in volume, frequency and in casualties after several suicide and other IED bombing and attacks, even on Mosques that ISIS-K took responsibility for. Mortality from the fighting now runs well over 100, chiefly civilians, over a period of only one month. In the latest incident, (October 8, 2021)  a blast in a mosque in southern Afghanistan killed 37 people and wounded at least 70 others during Friday Prayer, officials said, the second such attack on a Shiite place of worship on successive Fridays in the country.

It appears the Taliban are dead set on liquidating ISIS-K, and the fighting and ambushes, arrests became a daily occurrence. Latest reports late October spoke of scores of ISIS-K fighters surrendering to the Taliban.  

In the meantime, AQ members, including no less than OBL’s former chief of security, are now appearing in public with Taliban bodyguards in Kabul. ISIS members have not been granted such a courtesy and despite a lukewarm protest against drone strikes on their soil, the Taliban have not escalated in response to the US’s missiles exacting reprisals for their 13 lost servicemen at Kabul airport. This leads us to believe that Afghanistan will not be quite the safe haven for terrorism some may have predicted, if only because they could threaten the Taliban security and authority.

On August 23rd, CIA Director William Burns was sent by President Biden to meet with Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar. The meeting and its agenda were held in secret in the middle of the chaos of evacuation but news of the event was leaked the next day. It is interesting that on the 26th, just two days after news of the meeting spread, Daesh leaders ordered an attack on the airport, no doubt hoping to spark renewed hostilities and end all hope of dialogue between the retreating US and the new lords of Kabul. The plan seems to have backfired as neither the Taliban nor Western forces took the bait and known ISIS targets were hit by airstrikes. If the Taliban wish to assert their power over their new state, they will abhor challenges to their authority and the unauthorized suicide attack will exacerbate preexisting animosities between the two jihadist entities.

WHAT DOES TALIBAN VICTORY MEAN FOR THE GLOBAL JIHAD?

The fact that AQ members are appearing in public without fear of drone strikes indicates some deal has been reached between the US intelligence community and the terrorist organization, most likely negotiated with the Taliban as a proxy. No doubt assurances were given that Afghanistan will not be a springboard for attacks against the West. The Doha agreement sets out that “…the Taliban will not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qa’ida, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.” Furthermore, they are obliged to “prevent any group or individual in Afghanistan from threatening the security of the United States and its allies, and will prevent them from recruiting, training, and fundraising and will not host them in accordance with the commitments”.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban is committed to deal with those seeking asylum or residence in Afghanistan according to international migration law and the commitments of this agreement, so that such persons do not pose a threat to the security of the United States and its allies.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban will not provide visas, passports, travel permits, or other legal documents to those who pose a threat to the security of the United States and its allies to enter Afghanistan,” the Doha Agreement reads.[35]

If the Taliban stick to the deal, it might turn out that the Doha Agreement is one of the most important documents signed in the history on the war on terror. Time will tell how genuine these Taliban assurances are, but the Americans do hold the carrot and the stick – the latter being their capability together with the Coalition partners to mount serious air and ground operations from their bases in the region within 24 hours that can seriously hurt wreak havoc on the extremists. Another is blocking the Taliban in their effort to win international endorsement and recognition. In that case it all goes back to square one but without the security headaches of having boots on the ground in hostile territory.

 The carrot is providing development aid, lifting of some sanctions, gradual build-up of relations, as long as the Taliban do not renege of the Doha deal. Nor it seems to be in their interest, but it will be an intricate game with their erstwhile Islamic allies, albeit the fact that their relations were always imbued with mistrust.

If the Taliban were to kick out ISIS, AQ would be able to reverse its declining fortunes and retake lost ground in the Middle East, as long as its focus stays there. It would do well to not tempt fate and steer clear of Western targets. History has shown that AQ and the Taliban make for poor bedfellows and their leadership can be fickle. The only real motivation to not capitalize on their victory and launch attacks in Europe and the US is survival. The Taliban will face massive challenges to run a semblance of a country and this task will be impossible if the US decides to conduct a bombing campaign.

As previously stated, ISIS has little concern for its host’s strategic objectives. Unfortunately, while every Afghan holding a gun today in Kabul will likely claim to be Taliban, many are no doubt “partisans de dernier jour” and some commanders are bound to bear sympathies for ISIS’s particular brand of jihad. Given the absurd abundance of western military equipment abandoned by the former central government, it is likely some entrepreneurial commanders will try and send weaponry to other jihadist hotspots either for ideology or money. An influx of American equipment and of career jihadists fresh from Afghanistan in Syria might give ISIS there a fighting chance again if the West does not police Afghanistan’s borders adequately for arms trafficking and terrorist movement.

Afghanistan is also presented to bear important religious significance according to certain interpretations of Mohammad's prophecies and according to recitations of the Hadiths by his companions. The battle of Armageddon in Islamic lore is to be fought at Jerusalem. According to the Hadiths, when the time comes for this battle that should finally allow for the triumph of Islam, an army would emerge from Khorasan, waving black flags. Khorasan is a large and vaguely delineated historic region in the Central Asia, historically spanning Iran and Afghanistan. Certain non-canonical interpretations would have the mujahideen believe that the Syrian civil war is in reality one of the final steps for the victory of the House of Peace against the House of War, the establishment of a worldwide Umma. The Hadiths predict that the army, hailing from Khorasan, would liberate in a straight line all Muslims between Khorasan and Jerusalem from oppression. Nothing would be able to defeat it. This army had been portrayed by some to be the Taliban and the Afghan mujahideen, as Afghanistan is at the heart of Khorasan. Unfortunately for the Taliban, their flag is white. ISIS’s banner is black and fits the constructed myth nicely. It’s only natural that ISIS would lay claim to the prophecy as its own. The supporters of this view argue that what started in Afghanistan in 2001 has spread into Iraq and Syria, and the black flags are nearing ever so closer to Jerusalem. The black flags would then not be emblematic of the Taliban in particular, but the Global Jihad that was launched with Afghanistan as a springboard. While these interpretations are not necessarily widely known by the Mujahideen, they are given some attention and legitimize ISIS recruitment for foreign jihadists outside of Afghanistan, as according to the Hadiths, all Muslims should join the army from Khorasan on its way to Jerusalem.

All said above, President Biden’s idea to terminate the US and the Western presence in the region seems to be a cardinal error, since geo-strategic threats which motivated the US and NATO to intervene in the first place in 2001, still exist. New situations require a new approach and new instruments – a combination of military force (Special Forces, intelligence, UAVs, airpower, etc.), diplomatic and economic instruments (investments, development aid, etc.).  Although Bin Laden is not alive, the hydra of Islamic extremism has many heads and right now they are glorifying the Western pullout as a major victory against the “Satan” to woo as many new recruits as possible. Despite the fact that al-Qaeda and ISIS, which had a massive, but so far a low key presence in Afghanistan, their ideology is bound to resurrect in another form or country that jeopardizes Western interests in the region. Observers believe that it is only a matter of time when they restart attacks on Western interests.

EMPATHY AS A PATH TO STABILITY

 The US and the West need to recognize Afghanistan’s wish to govern their own affairs. Additionally, publicly expressed empathy for Afghan casualties and suffering would be a powerful symbolic move.  According to a SIGAR Report from August 2021, at least 66,000 Afghan troops and 48,000 civilians have been killed and 75,000 injured during 20 years of American intervention in Afghanistan[36]. These are staggering numbers that require some empathy. In order to build a meaningful relationship with the Afghans, the West needs to show its humanity, and pay due respect to victims, national traditions, and the Afghan way of life.  One of the positive examples was recent British Defense Secretary Ban Wallace’s emotional response during the BBC interview when he criticized decisions of Western governments related to the current evacuation strategy from Kabul. Wallace, who is an experienced war veteran, expressed genuine care about the fate of ordinary Afghan people. That was an important and powerful moment since it was one of the rare occasions when Western decision-makers showed emotionally unrestrained empathy for Afghans[37].

               Some have taken it a bit too far. In a comedy-worthy gaffe, Maryam Monsef, Canadian minister of women and gender equality called the Taliban “our brothers” during a press conference late August. She later claimed it was just a “cultural reference,” after receiving criticism for her choice of language. [38] 

               Additionally, the West should find the appropriate way to support anti-Taliban protestors This is easier said than done since these people risk their very lives to oppose Taliban rule.  It is very difficult to provide them any tangible protection since the US and the West are now in the process of post-op consolidation. It is not very likely that the US is ready for anything that would violate the agreements with the Taliban on the evacuation of the US and Western troops[39].

Anti-Taliban Afghans are the most vulnerable and exposed group, which could be brutally eradicated at any moment. Although they could play a critical role in the inner transformation of Afghanistan, at this moment, realistically speaking they could count on very little support and protection from the US and NATO. If they find a way to survive on their own in this initial period of transition, their long-term position in Afghan society might improve. On the other hand, clandestine lines of support, established decades ago running from the ex-Soviet republics to the territory once held by the Northern Alliance which already beat the Soviets and then Taliban with Western help decades ago, are most likely to be reopened. They are needed to supply the last stand against the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Panjshir. It is the only Afghanistan province that has not yet fallen to the Taliban but might prove, as the case in history, to be an invincible fortress. The resistance there is led by Ahmad Massoud, the son of legendary Afghan rebel commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, and former vice president Amrullah Saleh.

After former Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani fled the country on August 15, Amrullah Saleh had declared himself as the legitimate caretaker president of Afghanistan in line with the country's constitution.

Since 2021, the conflict in Afghanistan produced a huge migration crisis. Almost 3. 5 million Afghans fled their home. According to UHCR data, the majority of them went to Pakistan (1.5 million) and Iran (780,000[40]). The Taliban takeover of the country is producing another wave of migration, albeit smaller for the time being. Afghans who cooperated with the US and NATO in the last twenty years represent the most vulnerable group. Most of these people are trying to leave the country fearing Taliban retribution. It is more than obvious that people should not be left behind[41]. That is an obligation and moral imperative which, if it were to succeed bloodlessly, requires the cooperation of the Taliban themselves. On the other hand, it is quite safe to assume that at least parts of the Taliban leadership are thinking that the remaining foreigners and their local staff could be useful bargaining chips with the American and Europeans.

As former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said “We (Brits) must evacuate and give sanctuary to those to whom we have the responsibility – those Afghans who helped us and stood by us and have a right to demand we stand by them”[42]. The recent statement of G7 leaders on Afghanistan, brings some comforting tones, including support the people of Afghanistan, and acknowledging their right to live in dignity, peace, and security[43]. G7 leaders called for “adherence to the obligation under international humanitarian law, including the rights of women, girls, and minority groups”[44]. Although the statement reflects important member state positions regarding the most important issues in Afghanistan, it is doubtful if they would resonate within the Taliban, who did not demonstrate in the past they care much about international law and human rights.

The US Military did a fantastic job in the evacuation of Afghan civilians, often risking their security (US Airforce boarded 871 Afghan civilians into C-17 on one of the flights from Kabul)[45]. The US military airlifted approximately 125,000 people from Kabul, ranking it among the largest evacuation by air in history. The Brits evacuated 15,000 people (6,000 of them were Afghan nationals), and Germans 5,300 (around 3,700 of them were Afghans) Germany plans to allow 40,000 of them to resettle in Germany. Therefore, the US military and NATO allies should be given great credit for doing their jobs best they could under extreme circumstances. They did not lose the war in Afghanistan. Their politicians did.

 

WESTERN NATION-BUILDING MODEL CANNOT BE IMPLEMENTED GLOBALLY

Ideological concepts of universal collective behavior of human beings, developed in libertarian and neo-con social laboratories and proselytized by different US Administrations, did not sit well among traditionally conservative Afghans, especially in rural areas. Continuous nation-building efforts aimed to “mold Afghans” into “western logic, organization of society and value systems”, while trying to fast-forward some phases of social and economic developments of Afghanistan, came to naught after the US decision to leave the country.

Additionally, the US needs to carefully pick its future fights, since its international credibility, as well as its military and economic power, have been shaken by the Afghanistan saga. Although the US is still the only superpower and the largest economy in the world, the influence of countries like China, Russia, and India is rapidly growing. The do-it-alone approach will not work anymore, since the US is no longer “the lonely superpower”[46] with no competition around.

For that reason, the US needs genuinely recommit to substantial multilateralism to continue to play its global leadership role and rethink what they want from their allies. The post-Unipolar world is complex, dangerous, and in many ways less predictable than the Cold War era. For that reason, the US needs to strengthen its relationship with its traditional allies and reinvigorate multilateralism by supporting US-Mexico-Canada Agreement USMCA, NATO, ASEAN, EU, and bilateral relations which were heavily impaired by President Trump’s behavior and foreign policy approach.

If we go back to the Afghanistan case, it is obvious that the US and NATO, despite supreme military and financial capabilities, were not able to sustain their presence and fully achieve strategic goals after twenty years in Afghanistan. There are too many intertwined global, regional and local interests which made the situation in Afghanistan too complex to handle even for the group of most powerful countries in the world. The cost and profit ratio certainly did not help. The Western military involvement in Afghanistan, “the coalition of the able and willing”, did not really reflect the true nature of multilateralism defined by collective security principles. It was substantially an operation driven by the US. Multilateralism can be inefficient, slow, and in some respects too bureaucratic, but if properly applied it provides legitimacy to handle delicate security challenges. Or collective responsibility in case of failure, for that matter.

The UN, which played a mostly positive role in Afghanistan, could become an important instrument of multilateralism in post-West Afghanistan and a factor of stability. The UN could play the effective role of a “middle-man” between new Taliban rulers and the rest of the world. That would depend on many external and internal factors. After decades of conflicts and devastation, Afghanistan cannot survive without outside help. If the Taliban decide to work with the UN, as the most neutral option, that could help them to improve their international image and perhaps even legitimacy if they prove themselves as cooperative. On the other hand, the Taliban are likely to choose to strengthen bilateral relations with Islamic countries like Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and even Iran which will give them greater maneuvering space. They will certainly improve their relations with big powers like China and Russia while the real goal, which will take more time to achieve, will be good and open relations with the US, UK, or France, like in the case of Vietnam. India, due to being an enemy of Taliban’s foster parent – Pakistan, is way down the pipeline. The role of China can be neglected only at great peril. Apart from the interest in Afghanistan’s raw materials, especially lithium, China has a geopolitical and strategic stake in Afghanistan. Beijing was an integral part of the recent negotiations on the handover of power in Kabul.

Once again, a multilateral approach through the UN Security Council could play important role in defining red lines regarding future Taliban behavior – establishing a clear system of rewards and punishments. For such an approach, consensus among permanent members of the UN Security Council is necessary but herein lies the trap – Russia and China’s veto power. Nonetheless, although the UN system is not always known for its efficiency, it is still one of the better options for more intensive international community’s involvement in Afghanistan.  

CONCLUSION

The first but not the final act of the Afghan drama is over, the media furor has died down and everyone needs to move forward. Although there are many lessons to be learned from the Afghanistan campaign, it is safe to say it will not evoke any apocalyptic consequences to the US, NATO, and the West at large. However, it is a sobering warning that something big needs to change urgently. Besides that, the US and the West, need to take various “damage control measures” to minimize consequences to the tactical and strategic interest (in Central Asia and globally).

Being involved in humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, or further development of the country, is essentially important not only for purely humanitarian reasons, but also as a reminder that the West is despite setbacks, firmly attached to the values of freedom, democracy, and human rights. The US needs to think carefully about how they perform their leadership role in the world. Eagerness to use punitive tools of foreign and security policy comes with a price.  It is not very likely that even the closest allies will follow the US in another adventure like Afghanistan.

The US needs to learn to pick their future fights very carefully, since the time of post-Cold War time unilateralism is long gone. Even more important is to avoid any involvement in a nation-building type of intervention in the near future. Former Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan C. Croker in his recent article to the New York Times, made a point about the US nation-building Afghanistan saying that “societal change is a slow process, which requires a strategic patience”[47]. Things cannot be done overnight. If the US is not ready for that, they should consider options other than getting involved. Although President Biden made the right decision to withdraw, a more gradual process, which would ensure better protection of the US and Western interest in Afghanistan and the region would have been much better[48].  However, the jury is still out on that one

At the end of the day, we need to ask ourselves is Afghanistan a better and more secure place today than twenty years ago? Could we be certain that Afghanistan will never again be used by terrorists to plan attacks against the US? It is very hard to answer those questions with authority and certainty. Islamic terrorist organizations like ISIS, ISIS-K, and al-Qaeda usually flourish in tribal and sectarian violence. Such a scenario would represent a serious challenge not only for Taliban rule but could also lead to a protracted civil war begging a new foreign intervention.

The re-appearance of terrorist organizations in Afghanistan is a serious challenge for the US and national security of NATO allies that cannot be ignored. For that reason, US military involvement in Afghanistan will continue in some form, certainly in the shape of “eyes and ears in the sky”. Although President Biden believes that future operations against terrorists in Afghanistan, will not require massive military operations, that option should not be taken off the table if the situation in the country sharply escalates.

On the other hand, one thing is clear. If the US and the West do not learn lessons from their mistakes in Afghanistan and continue to operate in the international arena as before, the free world is in trouble, and the “Western drama” will continue to unfold in some other corner of the world.

In this context early this month, speaking from the White House after the last US soldier left Afghanistan ending America’s longest war, President Biden launched his unitary “Biden doctrine” for US foreign policy, perhaps, and only time will tell, the most important policy change in decades.  

“First, we must set missions with clear, achievable goals, not ones we’ll never reach,” he said. “We must stay clearly focused on the fundamental national security interests of the United States of America.”

Biden said he would shun ground wars with large troop deployments, instead favoring a strategy guided more by economic and cybersecurity competition with China and Russia and focused on countering threats with military technology that allows strikes against terrorists without having large contingents of troops based on the ground in a place like Afghanistan.

Biden called it a “new era” of the use of American power in which the United States would no longer seek to reshape its rivals in the way three previous presidents tried to do in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said that “the world is changing” and that American leadership must change with it.

‘It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries’, Biden said.

These words were somehow lost in the cacophony surrounding the pullout, but if feasible, it is truly a major policy change that could be Biden’s ‘golden legacy”. The big question now is which of the other rival big powers will try and fill that void and how could that change the world’s power ratio. 



[1] Khošāl Khān Khaṭak was a 17th century, Pashtun poet, who is considered as the “father of Pashto literature” and the national poet of Afghanistan. - https://www.britannica.com/topic/Islamic-arts/Decentralization-of-Islamic-literatures#ref316446

[2] https://news.sky.com/story/first-us-troops-leave-kabul-amid-increasing-risk-as-uk-working-to-keep-an-airport-open-after-deadline-afghanistan-latest-12385846

[3] https://www.voanews.com/us-afghanistan-troop-withdrawal/forever-war-afghanistan-comes-abrupt-tragic-end

[4] https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/saudi/analyses/madrassas.html

[5] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Wahhabi

[6] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Shariah

[7] Taliban prohibited women to work except in healthcare, to walk in public without male escort, to attend schools. In a case women broke Taliban rule, they were publicly whipped and executed. - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taliban#:~:text=During%20their%20rule%20from%201996,tens%20of%20thousands%20of%20homes.

[8] Only exception was a music from a “daf” – type of frame drum.

[9] https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/06/taliban-poetry-yes-they-write-poems-and-theyre-surprisingly-diverse/258304/

[10] Alex Strick van Linschoten (Ed.), Felix Kuehn (Ed.), “Poetry of the Taliban”, Columbia University Press (2012).

[11] Ibid.

[12] In IslamTaqiya or Taqiyya (Arabic: تقیة‎ taqiyyah, literally "prudence, fear") [1][2] is a precautionary dissimulation or denial of religious belief and practice in the face of persecution. Example: “Quran Surah Aal-i-Imraan ( Verse 28 ): Let not the believers take the unbelievers for friends rather than believers; and whoever does this, he shall have nothing of (the guardianship of) Allah, but you should guard yourselves against them, guarding carefully; and Allah makes you cautious of (retribution from) Himself; and to Allah is the eventual coming. (illā an tattaqū minhum tuqāt)” - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taqiya

[13] https://wisdomquotes.com/learn-from-history-george-santayana/

[14] https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/afghanistan-population

[15] Ibid.

[16] https://www.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/7/2013/11/Shias-Sunnis-religious-conflict-full-report.pdf

[17] Sir Alexander Burns describes his adventures in Afghanistan in his book “Travels into Bokhara: The Narrative of Voyage on the Indus”.

[18] https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/Britains-Retreat-From-Kabul-1842/

[19] Brits, Soviets, Americans.

[20] Examples: King Ghazi Amanullah Khan (who end up fleeing to Italy) and pro-Soviet President and Prime Minister of Afghanistan Nut Mohammad Taraki, who was killed by his fellow Afghans.

[21] https://apnews.com/article/middle-east-business-afghanistan-43d8f53b35e80ec18c130cd683e1a38f

[23] Synergia Foundation “Insight” August 2021 edition 

[26] Anand Gopal: The Other Afghan Women, New Yorker, September 6, 2021

 

[27] WHY THE TALIBAN’S PROMISE TO STOP THE OPIUM TRADE RINGS HOLLOW, By Philip Smith, New Europe, October 10, 2021

[28] AP: Analysis: Taliban hard-line path worsens Afghanistan dilemma, By KATHY GANNON, Sept 9, 2021

[29] New Europe, Taliban takeover of Afghanistan increases investment risk for Russia, Central Asia, Sept 8, 2021

[30] https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/lessonslearned/SIGAR-21-46-LL.pdf, p.VII

[31] Financial Times: Afghanistan pullout deepens EU concern over lack of military power, Sept 2, 2021

[32] Politico: “Disbelief and betrayal: Europe reacts to Biden’s Afghanistan ‘miscalculation’, August 17, 2021

[33] NPR: European Leaders Have Tense Reactions To U.S.-Afghanistan Conflict, August 28, 2021

[34] Politico, Brussels Playbook, Sept 2, 2021

[35] Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America

February 29, 2020 which corresponds to Rajab 5, 1441 on the Hijri Lunar calendar

and Hoot 10, 1398 on the Hijri Solar calendar

Defense Secretary Ban Wallace breaks down admitting “some people won’t get back” from Afghanistan and “it’s sad that the West has done what it’s done” - https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/16/ben-wallace-afghanistan-interview/

[38] CTV News: Federal minister Monsef says her mention of Taliban as 'our brothers' is a 'cultural reference'

Published Wednesday, August 25

[39] https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Agreement-For-Bringing-Peace-to-Afghanistan-02.29.20.pdf

[40] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-58283177

[41] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-58283177

[42] https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-58295384

[43] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/g7-leaders-statement-on-afghanistan-24-august-2021

[44] Ibid.

[45] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/17/afghans-us-transport-flight-photograph-cram/

[46] Samuel Huntington used the term “lonely superpower” in his 1999 Foreign Affairs article, describing the US position in post-Cold world.  -  https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/1999-03-01/lonely-superpower

[47] Ambassador Ryan Crocker’s point about lack of strategic patience article at the “Why Biden’s Lack of Strategic Patience Led to Disaster”, Opinion, Guest Essay, New York Times, August 21, 2021, (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/21/opinion/us-afghanistan-pakistan-taliban.html),

[48] Ambassador Ryan C. Croker rightly pointed out that “Mr. Biden’s decision to withdraw all US forces destroyed and affordable status quo that could have lasted indefinitely at a minimum cost in blood and treasure”, Ibid.